BBC Productions - History Documentaries

BBC Radio 2

Mariella Frostrup

"Blonde On Blonde: Marilyn Monroe" - April 2009 - 1x60mins

Presented by Mariella Frostrup / Produced by Neil Rosser

Mariella Frostrup examines the life and legacy of Marilyn Monroe.





Michael York

"Hollywood Charmers" - March & April 2009 - 4x30mins

Presented by Michael York / Produced by Neil Rosser

Actor Michael York narrates four profiles of Errol Flynn; Roger Moore, Omar Sharif and David Niven, whose centenary falls in March 2010.


Judy Garland

"The Judy Garland Trail" - October & November 2008 - 6x30mins

Presented by Michael Freedland / Produced by Neil Rosser

Michael Freedland takes to the trail once again in search of Judy Garland, on the fortieth aniversary of her death in June 1969.


West Pier at Brighton

"Not The End Of The Pier Show" - February 2000 - 1x60mins

Presented by Pete McCarthy / Produced by Andy Foster & Neil Gardner

To mark the year of its restoration after a quarter century of uncertainty, Pete McCarthy presents a celebration of the West Pier at's colourful history, the people who have worked and holidayed there, and it's potential for the future.




David Jacobs

"Life Before Lloyd Webber" - January & February 2000 - 6x30mins

Presented by David Jacobs / Produced by James Montgomery

David Jacobs celebrates British musicals of the 1950's, 60's & 70's over six themed episodes.




Sammy Davis Junior

"Mr Entertainment" - August & September 2000 - 6x30mins

Presented by David Jacobs / Produced by Jim Hiley


In this six-part series David Jacobs recalls and celebrates the career of Sammy Davis Junior, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the entertainer's death.



Lord Puttnam

"Century of Cinema" - 1999 - 6x30mins

Presented by Lord David Puttnam & Brian Sibley / Produced by Malcolm Prince

Lord Puttnam and Brian Sibley co-present the story of the 20th Century's most popular form of entertainment. The six hour-long programmes recall the splendours and horros of the Hollywood dream factory, from its earliest days to the present era of CGI.



Julie Andrews

"Starring Julie" - 1998 - 1x60mins

Presented by Brian Sibley / Produced by Malcolm Prince

In an exclusive and in-depth interview with Brian Sibley, JULIE ANDREWS, the actress once voted ‘the world’s most popular star’, brings her life-story right up-to-date. As well as personal insights into celebrity life in Hollywood and major moments in her career, she talks about her recent illness and contemplates her future.




Brian Sibley

"Disney's Women" - 1998 - 6x30mins

Presented by Brian Sibley / Produced by Malcolm Prince

In the 75th year of the world’s largest entertainment organisation, The Walt Disney Company, BRIAN SIBLEY introduces the six programmes telling two parallel stories - that of Walt Disney’s relationships with the real women in his life; and that of the evolution in his films of some of the most memorable female characters of all time. The story is told with help of his daughter DIANE DISNEY MILLER (talking for the first time about the life and work of her father) and the first-hand recollections of many of the female performers who starred in his films.


Prince Michael of Kent

"All Who Sail In Her" - 1996 - 1x60mins

Presented by HRH Prince Michael of Kent / Produced by Paul Plant

HRH PRINCE MICHAEL OF KENT introduces a celebration in words and music to mark this week's sixtieth anniversary of The R.M.S. Queen Mary's maiden voyage to Cherbourg and New York. As patron of The R.M.S. Foundation which now cares for the ship and raises funds for her restoration, His Royal Highness tells the story of The Queen Mary's construction and sixty years at sea. Those who worked on her and those who enjoyed her passenger comfort vividly recall the life of Britain's finest ocean going liner.


Ned Sherrin

"Review of Revue" - 1996 - 6x30mins

Presented by Ned Sherrin / Produced by David Rayvern Allen

Before a live audience at The Theatre Museum, Covent Garden, Ned Sherrin recalls the music, laughter and personalities of revue's golden days.





Anthea Turner

"Funny With Words" - 1996 - 1x60mins

Presented by Anthea Turner / Alan Nixon

To coincide with the centenary of the discovery of dyslexia and the British Dyslexia Association’s Dyslexia Awareness Campaign, Anthea Turner, who is herself dyslexic, investigates a remarkable phenomenon:  the large number of entertainers - and especially comedians - in Britain who are dyslexic. Among many others heard are Brian Conley, Eddie Izzard, Beryl Reid, Margi Clark, Ruth Madoc, Toyah Wilcox and James Whale.  




"Salutations" - 1992-1994


No programme information at this time - bear with us, it's on its way!




"The Harry Welchman Story"- 1992-1994

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Betty Driver

"The Betty Driver Story"- 1992-1994


The life and times of the British actress best known for her role as Betty Turpin in Coronation Street.






Gary Wilmot

"Black In The West End" - 1992-1994 -1x60mins

Presented by Gary Wilmot / Produced by Nicky Barranger


The 1990s have seen three award-winning musicals in London with all-black casts: Five Guys Named Moe, Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess at the Royal Opera House. All-black shows are not, however, a new phenomenon, nor is the presence of black performers in West End musicals.  This one-hour musical documentary traces the history of black musical theatre in London, from In Dahomey, which transferred from New York 1903, to the recent revival of Carmen Jones.  It is a gently-told story, rich in musical illustrations.


BBC Radio 3

King Henry VIII

"Henry: King of Kings" - April 2009 - 5x15mins

Produced by Neil Rosser

April 2009 is the five hundredth anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne and is marked by this series of five individual essays on key areas of his thirty eight year reign. 




DH Lawrence & Frieda in Cornwall

"Paradise Or Nightmare - Lawrence In Cornwall" - May 2008 - 1x44mins

Presented by John Worthen / Produced by Richard Bannerman

‘He was rather odd. To begin with he had a red beard, and Frieda wore bright red stockings, which was unusual in those days.’ Stanley Hocking, a teenager when D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda moved in up the road, recorded vivid memories of the Lawrences’ arrival in Cornwall in March 1916.  Lawrence, suffering from the destruction of his novel The Rainbow on grounds of obscenity and wanting to get away from a war he hated,  chose the ‘peacock’ sea and primitive landscape near St. Ives as a refuge. Lawrence biographer John Worthen follows in his footsteps, and talks to fellow Lawrence scholars Fiona Becket, Mark Kinkead-Weekes, and Christopher Pollnitz about the impact of this period on Lawrence’s life and work. He may have loved the place, and completed one of his greatest novels Women In Love, but the violence of the war caught up with him, he and Frieda were expelled on suspicion of spying in October 1917, and that experience surfaced in the angry chapter which he called ‘The Nightmare’ in his later novel Kangaroo.


Maths visualised

"The Essay - Symmetry & The Monster" - April 2008 - 4x15mins

Presented by Mark Ronan / Produced by Richard Bannerman

These four essays under the title ‘Symmetry and the Monster’ open up the world of mathematics, and describe one of the journeys which have preoccupied some of the greatest mathematical brains from the early 19th century to now. It’s a chronological journey, presented by Mark Ronan, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and Hon. Professor of Mathematics at University College London.


Blatny plaque

"The Poetic World of Newt" - April 2007 - 1x45mins

Presented by David Vaughan / Produced by David Vaughan

'Newt' was the name on the secret police file in Communist Prague which masked the identity of the poet Ivan Blatny. In his twenties Blatny was one of the central figures in the cultural avant-garde, but when the Communists came to power in 1948 he defected to Britain, much to the fury of the Czechoslovak authorities, who opened a secret file on him and attempted to lure 'Newt' back. In the years that followed his mental health gradually deteriorated, and he spent most of the rest of his life - all but forgotten - in various psychiatric hospitals. David Vaughan explores the life and the poetry of Blatny, travelling to Brno to meet his family, to Prague to the see the police files, and, poignantly, to the psychiatric hospitals in Suffolk where Blatny died in 1990. He continued to write poetry to his dying day, scraps of paper salvaged by his nurse, Frances Meacham, and his reputation is confirmed by the testimonies of the former playwright President Havel, and by the leading Czech writer Josef Skvorecky.


'Night Watch' by Rembrandt

"Rembrandt 400" - July 2006 - 1x60mins

Presented by Neil MacGregor / Produced by Richard Bannerman

Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, visits Amsterdam to reassess the qualities that make Rembrandt's subjects reach out so directly to us today.


Maureen Lipman recording in studio

"Joyce Grenfell at the Aldeburgh Festival" - 2005 - 3x20mins

Presented by Janie Hampton / Starring Maureen Lipman / Produced by Merilyn Harris

Comedienne and actress Joyce Grenfell fell in love with the annual classical music pageant in Aldeburgh back in 1947. These three 20 minute programmes, written & presented by Joyce's biographer Janie Hampton, follow her love for the festival through the reading of her personal letters to her best friend. Features Maureen Lipman as Joyce Grenfell.


BBC Radio 4

Len Deighton

"The Deighton File" - May 2009 - 1x30mins

Presented by Patrick Humphries / Produced by Neil Rosser

For nearly half a century, Len Deighton has been entertaining and enthralling readers with his spy novels, cookery books and World War II histories. Deighton, who turned 80 in February 2009, is a notoriously reclusive figure, who long ago turned his back on the publicity process. But in an exclusive for Radio 4, Deighton talks about his life and a writing career which stretches back to 1962, when ‘The Ipcress File’ was first published. 


Frank Gardner

"Scott Of Slimbridge" - 2009 - 1x60mins

Presented by Frank Gardner / Produced by Merilyn Harris

To mark the centenary of the birth of Sir Peter Scott, ornithologist, conservationist, painter, sportsman and broadcaster, on September 14th 2009, Frank Gardner, fellow birdman, delves into the voluminous Scott archives and discovers the great influence he has had on the movement for wildlife conservation.


Jonathan Freedland

"In Search Of A Shtetl" - 2009 - 1x30mins

Presented by Michael & Jonathan Freedland / Produced by Neil Rosser

Broadcaster Michael Freedland and his journalist son Jonathan, who also presents The Long View,  set off to find the East European places - the shtetls - where their forebears came from.


Hardeep Singh Kohli

"Blondin of Niagra Falls & Ealing" - 2009 - 1x30mins

Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli / Produced by Richard Bannerman

Hardeep demonstrates the art of presenting while on a tightrope, even if only a foot above the ground, in honour of Blondin, the man who first crossed Niagara Falls, on the 150th anniversary of the crossing.


Paul Brickhill

"The Best Years Of His Life" - April 2008 - 1x30mins

Presented by Patrick Humphries / Produced by Neil Rosser

Patrick Humphries explores the life and career of an author whose works are household names but about whom little is known. Paul Brickhill wrote three of the most famous novels centred on the Second World War  - "The Great Escape", "Reach for the Sky" and "The Dambusters", all of which were made into iconic films. Shot down over North Africa, Brickhill was imprisoned in the notorious Stalag Luft III - scene of the the great escape itself - but claustrophobia prevented his own escape. A journalist and writer, Brickhill stopped writing in 1962 and never published anything again – the programme asks why? 




"Under Investigation - The FBI at 100" - March 2008 - 10x15mins + 2x60mins

Presented by Tom Mangold / Produced by Adam Fowler

Tom Mangold tells the story of the FBI, America’s main law enforcement agency, from its creation in 1908 when its powers were strictly limited, through the controversial Hoover period and the rise of the G-man, through to the disaster of 9/11 and the 21st century’s ‘war on terror’.


The Stone of Scone

"The Stone of Destiny" - May 2007 - 1x60mins

Presented by Jim Naughtie / Produced by Richard Bannerman

The Stone of Destiny had lain under King Edward I’s Chair in Westminster Abbey for over 600 years, since its removal from Scone in Scotland in 1296. On Christmas Day 1950 it vanished.  James Naughtie tells the story of how three young men and one woman planned and carried out the audacious raid, bringing the cause of Scottish independence to the front pages. Through their own account, and a rich audio and visual archive, the journey of the sacred stone is followed to its hiding places in Scotland, its return to the Abbey, and finally, in 1996, its celebratory installation in Edinburgh Castle. In the week of the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union and the Scottish elections, the Stone remains a symbol of the pride of Scotland in its nationhood.


Barry Cryer

"The Joke Book" - June 2007 - 1x30mins

Presented by Barry Cryer / Produced by Neil Rosser & Michael Pointon

Barry Cryer explores the history of the joke book from the earliest surviving compilation, the fourth century A.D. Philogelos, to the present day on-line system of sharing jokes on the internet, via the eighteenth century Joe Miller book and the classic works of Larry Wilde and Robert Orben. Oh and also via a load of great jokes - more than you can shake a non-PC stick at!  With contributions from Michael McIntyre, the B3ta ‘Ginger Fuhrer’ Rob Manuel, Brad Ashton, Larry Wilde, Robert Orben, Laurie Bellew, Jack Seaton, Mark Brisenden and Hattie Hayridge.


Patience Strong

"Thinking In Rhymes" - September 2007 - 1x30mins

Presented by Peggy Reynolds / Produced by Nicky Barranger

Writer & academic Peggy Reynolds examines the life and work of the popular poet Patience Strong in this the centenary year of her birth. She hears from those who knew Strong to find out why her poetry remained so popular for so long. Contemporary poets also discuss the role of her poetry in the modern world.


Prague in 1938

"A Quarrel In A Faraway Place" - 2007 - 1x60mins

Presented & Produced by David Vaughan

For nearly seventy years, hundreds of archive recordings have lain hidden away in the cellars of the Czech Radio building in Prague.  Many are in English, dating from the early days of Czechoslovakia’s international broadcasts, and few have been heard since.  Yet they offer extraordinary and vivid insights into one of the most tragic episodes in the months leading up to World War II.  David Vaughan uses these unique Czech archives to tell the story of the events leading up to the Munich Crisis of September 1938 from the point of view of the ‘far-away country’ that Neville Chamberlain sacrificed to Nazi Germany for the illusion of ‘peace for our time’. 


Laurie Taylor

"Laurie's Loose Change" - 2007 - 1x30mins

Presented by Laurie Taylor / Produced by Richard Bannerman

Forty years after the first hole-in-the-wall cash machine led to the revolution in how to get your hands on your cash at any time of the day or night, Laurie Taylor wonders whether his loose change is safe. There are those who see plastic as the future, and cash as dirty, old-fashioned, troublesome stuff. Oyster cards have virtually removed cash from London’s trains and buses, and ‘contactless payment’ cards are hitting the streets and shops. Laurie meets those on both sides of the cash divide, and queues up outside the 40 year old hole-in-the-wall.


Josephine Baker

"The Rainbow Tribe" - 2007 - 1x30mins

Presented & Produced by Kate Meynell

The cabaret star Josephine Baker adopted twelve children of different nationalities in the 1950s and 60s. They were brought up in a chateau in the Dordogne, taught their native languages and paraded for tourists to take their photograph. Called the Rainbow Tribe they were part of her mission to show that different nationalities and religions could live together. Members of the Tribe recall this strange upbringing, the traumatic eviction from the chateau, and life with an increasingly eccentric mother



Bert Williams

"The Tragi-Comic Life of Bert Williams" - May 2006 - 1x30mins

Presented by Lenny Henry / Produced by Neil Rosser

Lenny Henry tells the story of the first great Black comedian, Bert Williams, As part of a double act with George Walker, Bert became a star in musical comedy and vaudeville in the latter years of the nineteenth century. But when a solo career led him to record monologues and comedy songs, he became a huge success, even though that success was built on playing the racial stereotype. his biggest hit 'Nobody' encapsulated both the isolation of the everyman, and the plight of the Black man in America at the beginning of the 20th Century.



John Betjeman

"The Betjeman Archive" - 2006 - 1x60mins

Produced by Richard Bannerman

Uncovering the unparallelled audio journey taken by Sir John Betjemen on radio and TV on the occassion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.







Richard Foster

"The Old Bill" - Series 2 - 2006 - 5x15mins

Presented by Richard Foster / Produced by Judith Kampfner

A second series where historian Richard Foster brings history to life though old bills and documents, revealing how much or how little we have changed.




Under The Sking - Noel Butler

"Under The Skin" - December 2006 - 1x30mins

Presented by Bernie Clifton / Produced by Douglas Mounce

The English fascination with people wearing animal costumes stretches back into folklore. Bernie Clifton, famous for his performing Ostrich, explores the world of 'skin' performers and discovers the techniques required by those appearing as pantomime horses and sports mascots.





International Polar Year

"The Poles & The Planet" - December 2006 - 1x60mins

Presented by Adam Fowler / Produced by Adam Fowler

In this archive hour, vivid and remarkable archive from the 1957 Polar expedition is used to recall the event as the first major international scientific collaboration connects with the 2007 Interntaional Polar Year and the planetary challenges facing Earth's inhabitants.


Miles Kington

"Strolling With Sartre" - 2005 - 1x60mins

Presented by Miles Kington / Produced by Clare Csonka

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, Miles Kington retraces the steps of Jean-Paul Sartre across Paris, revealing old haunts, meeting those that knew him, and reliving some of JPS' favourite past-times.



Richard Foster

"The Old Bill" - Series 1 - 2005 - 5x15mins

Presented by Richard Foster / Produced by Clare Csonka

Historian Richard Foster makes superb use of an old historian's tool, the bill! By investigating bacl from accounts and receipts, Richard tells the stories of five people - a Tory MP, a harpsichord tuner, a churchwarden, a police constable and an Irish doctor.



NPR studio

"The Sound of America - The Story of NPR" - 2005 - 1x60mins

Presented byJoe Queenan / Produced by Neil Gardner

National Public Radio in the US has had a tumultuous 35 year history. Nothing like the BBC, NPR is a schism of liberal-agenda news and cutting edge cultural programme making. This archive hour looks at the key moments from NPR's history, including the very first broadcast, the Watergate scandal, Washington riots, kidnapped repporters, global link-ups, 9/11 and much more. Plus the programme delves in to the incredibly rich collection of NPR music and arts documentaries.



Robert Powell & Alan Ayckbourn

"Surrounded" - 2005 - 1x30mins

Presented by Robert Powell / Produced by Richard Bannerman

Fifty years ago Britain's first professional theatre-in-the-round was foudned in Scarborough by the pioneering Stephen Jospeh. Actor Robert Powell, who began his career 'in the round', visits the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborouogh and talks to playwright Alan Ayckbourn, actor Tom Courtenay, director Peter Cheeseman, designer Alison Chitty and folk singer Martin Carthy about their experience of this intimate and unusual space, where the audience surrounds the action in a uniquely involving way.




Chris McManus

"6000 Postcards" - 2005 - 1x30mins

Presented by Chris McManus / Produced by Richard Bannerman

Stacked in shoeboxes in a dusty cupboard, Richard Rawles of the Psychology Dept of University College London stumbled upon 6000 old postcards, all dating from 1953. On the back seemed to be answers to a questionnaire about left and right-handedness, but the cards had lain there ignored for 50 years. An early example of viewer participation and a revealing survey in its own right, Chris McManus describes how he and his colleagues tracked the postcards to an early BBC TV science programme presented by Jacob Bronowski, and 50 years later put them through a computer analysis to find out what they could tell us about the poeple and the time in which they lived.



Ainsley Harriott recording on location in South London

"Ainsley's First Kitchen" - December 2005 - 1x30mins

Presented by Ainsley Harriott / Produced by Clare Csonka

Chef Ainsley Harriott returns to his childhood home in South london and relives some of the food and family experiences that made Christmas special for him, and set him on the path his adult life would take. He swaps his TV kitchen for the one in the house in which his mother prepared the family's special Christmas fare, and cooks up a couple of his mother's recipes for fellow chef Roopa Gulati and comedian Arthur Smith.




BBC World ServiceWalt Disney

"Ain't No Mickey Mouse Business '98" -1998 - 4x30mins

Presented by Brian Sibley / Produced by Malcolm Prince

There can scarcely be a corner of the globe where people aren't familiar with Mickey Mouse - the big round ears, the smiling face, the red button-up pants and the oversized yellow boots. But what does Walt Disney's famous cartoon character represent? In a fully revised series, AIN'T NO MICKEY MOUSE BUSINESS, Brian Sibley tells the story of the company behind the Mouse. Responsible for dozens of animated films from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ to ‘Hercules’ and theme parks in America, Japan and France, the Walt Disney Company is now the world's largest entertainment corporation



Walt Disney

"Ain't No Mickey Mouse Business" - 1996 - 4x30mins

Presented by Brian Sibley / Produced by Malcolm Prince

There can scarcely be a corner of the globe where people aren't familiar with Mickey Mouse - the big round ears, the smiling face, the red button-up pants and the oversized yellow boots. But what does Walt Disney's famous cartoon character represent?


"Shakespeare On Trial" - 1992-1994

No programme information at this time - bear with us, it's on its way!